Water is one of the most essential resources needed for human survival. Today’s nearly 7.7 billion global inhabitants are putting more stress on our already limited supply of freshwater resources. Luckily, our building industry is aware of the long-lasting benefits it can bring to achieving the goal of water efficiency in both regional and global environments. For example, through steadily increasing the water efficiency and conservation features in modern building codes and standards, we are well on our way to achieving safe water use and ensuring access to clean water worldwide.
However, simply acknowledging the issue does not mean the work is over. While building codes like the International Plumbing Code (IPC), and related standards play a key role in the ensuing access to clean water and conservation efforts, these are the minimum requirements. As society begins to place a greater emphasis on sustainability, resiliency and efficiency, it will take collaboration from across the industry to provide those jurisdictions who desire higher levels of water efficiency the tools to do so.
Water Efficient Codes and Standards
Building codes and standards like the IPC continue to build upon previously established water efficiency standards by going through a regular update process. The most recent edition provisions ensure safe and sanitary access to clean water as well as efficiency measures for water use. For example:
- Chapter 13 of the 2021 IPC has water conservation measures for on-site water re-use such as graywater, re-claimed water, and rainwater collection;
- Also new to Chapter 13 of the IPC is the referencing of the joint CSA B805/ICC 805-2018 Rainwater Harvesting Systems Standard as an alternative for regulating the materials, design, construction and installation of systems for rainwater collection, storage, treatment and distribution of nonpotable water; and
- Chapter 14 of the IPC addresses the use of these water re-use provisions through sub-surface landscape irrigation requirements.
While mandatory codes and standards provide an excellent foundation for safe, water efficient buildings, there is often a desire to do better and stretch further, even if it is through voluntary programs not necessarily mandated by a jurisdiction but instead supported through incentives.
Together with the Residential Services Network (RESNET), the International Code Council developed the first ANSI Consensus Standard for rating water efficiency in homes. The release of RESNET/ICC 850-2020, Standard for Water Efficiency Rating Index, early last year established a uniform methodology for evaluating, rating and labeling the water use performance of single family and duplex dwelling units. Supported by the HERS H20 that establishes water efficiency ratings by Certified HERS Raters and Accredited Rating Providers, the program is designed to be a voluntary system where builders and homeowners can each benefit from greater levels of water efficiency and savings. This approach is similar to the existing HERS program for home energy ratings. Being able to quantify the water efficiency of new homes enables their purchasers to make better informed decisions.
Efforts are currently underway by the Code Council and RESNET to update the 850 Standard, expanding its scope to include multifamily buildings.
Taking the Next Step – Adoption and Implementation
Despite the creation of technically sound, comprehensive codes and standards, there is no guarantee they will be adopted and, subsequently, implemented. Ultimately, national, state and local governments decide whether a code or standard will be adopted, and the unfortunate truth is that they often have limited budgets and resource constraints. That is where the Code Council’s family of solutions comes into the picture. The Code Council offers its jurisdictional members access to a wide range of supporting services including code interpretations, training and certification of personnel, support publications, product certification and testing, plan review and other related services.
With essential tools like modern building codes and standards in place and the introduction of the latest technology in water systems, water efficiency is no longer simply an ideal. Instead, it is within our grasp to move us to a cleaner and safer world, where our supply of drinkable water is not constantly a concern. The building industry is acting, and the International Code Council is leading the charge toward a shared vision of a safe and sustainable future. As the industry continues to work together, the future is only looking brighter.